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Sweden Would Strengthen the NATO Alliance

Sweden Would Strengthen the NATO Alliance
By Lawrence A. Franklin

Originally Published by the Gatestone Institute.

The Swedes need little proof of Russia’s disregard for the sovereignty of nation states.

Several Russian fighter aircraft were intercepted near NATO airspace over the Baltic and Black Seas several times in late April by alliance Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) warplanes. On April 29, a Russian spy plane also violated Sweden’s sovereign airspace. NATO fighter interceptors from Denmark, Poland, Spain, and France responded to the Russian challenge over Baltic Sea airspace. Romanian and British fighters intercepted Russian aircraft over the Black Sea.

The Swedish government and people apparently now favor NATO’s defensive umbrella. This became especially true after a March violation of Swedish airspace by Russian SU-27 Flanker Fighters and SU-24 Fencer Bombers, which were reportedly carrying nuclear weapons.

Sweden, with a well-equipped air forces, could add substantially to NATO’s need to defend a northern approach to a potential attack against member states. Sweden also possesses an efficient, independent aircraft industrial base, much of it deployed in protective underground facilities. Sweden’s Air Force could help contribute to Estonia’s alliance mission to protect NATO’s eastern and northern flanks.

Sweden’s superior defense company, Saab, globally respected, produces the JAS-39 Gripen fighter, an aircraft already in use by at least two other NATO members: Hungary and the Czech Republic. Although Sweden’s neighbors, Finland, Norway, and Denmark, have preferred the US F-35 fighter, the Gripen could be an effective alternative. Swedish pilots are also familiar with NATO facilities such as airfields in Italy and Estonia.

Although Sweden reduced the size of its armed forces after the end of the Cold War, its impressive arms industry still manufactures weapons systems. It produced the thousands of AT-4 anti-tank missiles that NATO recently decided to deliver to Ukraine and have been procured by more than 20 countries. Although not a NATO ally, for 20 years Sweden maintained a continuous troop presence in Afghanistan until the evacuation by allied contingents in the summer of 2021. Sweden’s presence in Afghanistan also consisted of combat medics, military transport support personnel, training aligned Afghan soldiers and working closely with UK contingents in the north.

At the outbreak of WWII, Sweden had found itself woefully unprepared for any hostilities. That failure was, in large part, due to Sweden’s longstanding policy of political neutrality and military non-belligerency. At the outset of the Cold War, however, Sweden moved aggressively to address its military unpreparedness, and quickly increased its defense budget. The Swedish Armed Forces, with the full cooperation of Sweden’s civilian leadership, also adopted a “Total Defense Concept” — a plan to mobilize all sectors of society to develop infrastructure that would serve both peace and wartime priorities. Sweden’s national highway system, for instance, also enables fighter jets to land and take off. Gas stations along these routes were capable of refueling military jets, and farmers living near public roads are trained to man air-defense radar sites.

Successive Swedish administrations sponsored the construction of networks of underground installations designed to guarantee the continuity of the government should a war between NATO and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact alliance have broken out.

Another asset that Sweden could deliver to NATO are its sequestered submarines in fiord caves along the Baltic coast. The Swedish Navy is equipped with three Gotland-class submarines, domestically produced. They are capable of closely monitoring any movement of naval vessels from the Russian Navy Baltic Fleet headquarters just across the Baltic Sea in Kaliningrad. Saab is currently building two next-generation Blekinge Class submarines, scheduled for delivery in 2027/2028, which could help NATO neighbors Norway and Denmark protect maritime navigation in the Arctic.

After the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War in 1991, Sweden downgraded its defense posture — until Putin’s Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, and seized Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014. Sweden has continued the upgrade of its national defense ever since.

In addition, Sweden possesses a historic sensitivity to democratic values and to global crises and humanitarian needs. When, for instance, other nations closed their doors to Jews attempting to escape German-occupied Europe in the early 1940s, it was Sweden — even though caught between two totalitarian states, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia — that extended a merciful welcome to Jewish refugees from Norway and Denmark. Many Jews in Hungary owed their rescue to the legendary Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who was regrettably abducted there by the Soviets and never seen again, presumably sent to his death in their gulags. Now NATO will have the opportunity to extend a welcome to Sweden.

Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.

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